Although the online gaming community is generally a welcoming and friendly environment, it isn’t without its flaws. Sadly, cyber bullying is still a present and pressing issue for gamers of all ages.
By understanding how to spot and prevent cyber bullying in online games, we can help make what should be a fun past-time safe and enjoyable for everyone.
What form can cyber bullying take in online games?
Victims of in-game cyberbullying have reported verbal harassment in game lobbies and in-game chats, as well as having their gameplay experience targeted.
The perpetrators of this negative behaviour are often referred to as griefers.
Griefing is the term given to any act in which a player sabotages or interferes with another player’s gameplay, steals their virtual belongings (aka greed play), deliberately irritates other players or verbally harasses others during in-game chats.
Why do bullies use online games to target others?
Online multiplayer games will often have hundreds, even thousands, of concurrent users. Within this type of environment, among a collection of distant strangers, it’s relatively easy for players to feel a sense of anonymity.
Unfortunately, this sense of anonymity can be perceived by a minority as the perfect smokescreen for deviant behaviour. With the belief that they have carte blanche to behave disruptively and anarchically, these players do not appreciate that the consequences of their actions or comments in the virtual space ‘matter’ as much as they do in the real world – allowing them to ‘act up’ in a way they may choose to consciously avoid in real life (IRL).
Depending on the size of the active user base, the randomised nature of player-matching mechanics can mean the chances of meeting the same player twice is small. Knowing that their interaction is unlikely to last longer than the duration of one game, griefers may be emboldened to act or speak differently than they would if they knew they would have to engage with their opponents repeatedly.
Research conducted on behalf of the Cyberbullying Research Centre has noted a correlation between gaming genre and the level of bullying that occurs. In the study, MOBAs such as League of Legends were more likely to foster cyberbullying. However, the researchers also acknowledged that other related factors may play a part: e.g. more time spent playing a game will inevitably expose a player to an increased risk of encountering negative behaviour. Personality and social influences may also factor into the desire to bully others.
Does cyber bullying just happen to children?
Cyberbullying can happen to anyone in the gaming community, regardless of age. According to a 2017 study by non-partisan think tank the Pew Research Centre, 40% of American adults have experienced some form of online harassment.
However, although cyberbullying does affect all age groups, it is generally children who are most susceptible to its insidious effects.
How to prevent cyber bullying in the online gaming community
Online gaming communities are excellent places to meet like-minded players. However, it is difficult to know who precisely you are speaking to online, or what their intentions may be.
Playing anonymously with unknown opponents will help you to avoid being repeatedly identified and targeted by strangers.
It is also an effective way to prevent IRL bullying from transitioning into cyberbullying. Rather than provide a new platform for persistent bullying, online gaming can instead serve as a ‘safe space’ away from offline issues.
No matter the type of bullying, it should always be reported. In the case of cyberbullying occurring within online games, any abusive behaviour should be made known to the game admin team or customer support services.
In situations where the bullying is prolonged or especially abusive and threatening, it should be reported to the police.
Monitor children’s online gaming activity
Ensure your child’s gaming accounts are linked to the email address of a trusted adult (ideally yours, if you are the parent or guardian) so all chats and activity can be accessed. This will help catch cyberbullying incidents early. It will also ensure that abusive messages can be retrieved easily.
You should also ensure children only play age-appropriate titles. In addition to the content in an age-restricted game being more explicit, discussions occurring within in-game chats will also be more likely to contain inappropriate topics and inflammatory language.
Inform schools and teachers of cyberbullying issues
Sometimes cyberbullying may not be dealt with by a school body if the incident occurred away from school grounds.
However, even if your child’s school does adopt this approach, they should still be informed. This will ensure they can deal efficiently with any on-site issues that may stem from, or be linked to, an online incident.
It’s important that your child feels comfortable enough to approach a trusted adult if they have been targeted online. This will work to ensure that if any cyberbullying does begin, it can be dealt with and stopped as soon as possible.
Preventing your children from cyberbullying
In addition to monitoring children’s online activity for evidence of victimisation, it is equally important to use the same tools as a way of ensuring that your child is not bullying others.
If you believe your child has been acting unkindly or inappropriately whilst playing online games, it should always be addressed, and repercussions enforced. Withdrawing online access can be an effective incentive for a child to assess and modify their behaviour in these circumstances.
Looking for more guidance on the gaming community and how to keep safe online? Check out the rest of our blog posts for regular updates, gaming news and online advice.